50 years of FEMS: A Q&A with Elisa Granato

Posted on February 7, 2024   by Microbiology Society

2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS). To celebrate the long-standing association between FEMS and the Microbiology Society since the founding of FEMS in 1974, we spoke to our members to find out their experiences of working with FEMS.

The second Q&A is with Dr Elisa Granato of the University of Oxford, who was awarded the inaugural FEMS Outstanding Early Career Microbiologist Award in 2021 and is a Microbiology Society member.

Elisa Granato.jpg

Could you introduce yourself/your scientific interests?

I am currently an Independent Research Fellow at the Departments of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Oxford, UK. My scientific interests are centred in microbial ecology and evolution, with a focus on how bacteria compete with each other and how this intersects with horizontal gene transfer. Before coming to the UK, I did my PhD at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, working on siderophores and virulence. In addition to fundamental research, one of my biggest passions - and strengths - is science communication, and I am in the process of transitioning into this space professionally.

Can you tell us more about your experience of winning the FEMS Outstanding Early Career Microbiologist Award?

It was a huge surprise! As an academic, whenever you submit your documents for the purpose of applications, grant proposals, or research papers, you pretty much always expect rejection. So it came as a real shock when I was actually given the award. It also felt kind of special to receive the award in its first year of existence. I am immensely grateful to everyone who helped me with letters of support, and to my friends and colleagues who have been tremendously supportive in my research career.

What opportunities has the Award given you?

The most obvious and quantifiable effect was how many more opportunities for presenting my research opened up to me after receiving the award. In the following year, I noticed a huge uptick in invitations to give talks at various international universities and events, including an invited presentation at a Microbiology Society event in Manchester. As part of the award, I was also invited to give a keynote lecture at the FEMS Congress in Belgrade, Serbia, in 2022, which was a huge honour. It can be quite hard to “get your name out there” as an early career researcher, especially if you are not a group leader. Awards such as this can help boost your visibility in a meaningful way. I had an amazing time meeting many new people interested in my research, and the experience overall helped me build numerous professional connections.

Did you know about FEMS before winning the Award?

Yes! The first conference I ever attended was one hosted by the Association for General and Applied Microbiology (VAAM) in Germany, which is one of the FEMS member societies. I was a master student back then, and I remember being so impressed by how many people were there. There were also FEMS signs and posters everywhere, highlighting the fact that similar societies exist all over Europe. It was during that conference that I realized for the first time how truly massive and diverse of a field microbiology is.

How do you think FEMS can continue to contribute to your career and scientific development?

I am currently moving away from pure research at universities as I am pursuing other professional avenues. Scientific societies such as the Microbiology Society and FEMS can help me maintain my association with microbiology research, keep me up to speed on developments in the field, and stay connected with expert scientists in different countries.

How do you think membership of Societies (like the Microbiology Society and the Federation) benefits early career researchers?

Society conferences can be a great place to make new friends and find collaborators. I can especially recommend small to medium-sized meetings such as the Focus Meetings hosted by the Microbiology Society, where it is typically much easier to meet people. I have also greatly benefited from various training opportunities and workshops in my career, many of which were partly or fully sponsored by scientific societies. And finally, an important benefit of societies are their associated opportunities for not-for-profit publication. I feel very strongly that for-profit publishing represents a huge waste of limited funding within the academic system, and arguably an unethical use of taxpayers’ money. Not-for-profit society journals can provide an avenue to make your research visible and accessible without funnelling precious financial resources to billionaire shareholders.